Popular Singer Grapples with Jesus Christ

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), December 9, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Popular Singer Grapples with Jesus Christ


A theology book and a popular singer. It seems a strange combination. What do they have in common?

Seemingly nothing, except that Cho Young-nam, 56, a popular singer and television personality in Korea, recently wrote a book titled ``Grabbing the `Satpa (a wrestler's thigh band)' of Jesus.''

In the prologue of his book, Cho admits that he himself finds it a bit funny that a person like him, who sings for a living, should write a book on Jesus, but he goes on to explain why he wrote the book.

What many people don't know is that back in the 70s, Cho was a theology student at the Trinity Bible College in Florida.

Most readers will wonder why a young singer, who studied music at Hanyang University and Seoul National University, suddenly decided to study theology in the U.S.

In May, 1973, Cho sang at a congregation in Yoido, catching the eye of a Korean minister, who took him to the United States. as a gospel singer. But when Cho confessed his lack of faith, the minister persuaded him to enroll in a college of theology.

Also, Cho's mother was a devout Christian, who took him to church with her ever since he was a little boy. So in a way, it makes sense that he wrote such a book.

The seeds of this book were actually sown a long time ago in the U.S., when Cho was preparing for a paper he had to write about Jesus Christ.

While looking for material, he found that there were no books written by a Korean on the topic.

``How could there be no such book in Korea -- a country where the flames of faith burn so intensely, where it is so easy to hold an evangelical congregation, where there are more churches than cafes, where they have the largest church in the world? I grumbled and complained. Then I thought to myself, `Oh, what the heck, why don't I write one, since I've decided to study theology,''' he writes.

So that is why the singer came to write a theology book. Perhaps it is more accurate to say, ``rewrite.'' The bulk of it was actually published before, in 1982, when he returned after finishing his studies, under the title, ``Jesus as Seen by a Korean Youth.'' But it is obvious when reading the new book that he polished and updated much of the material.

So what does ``satpa'' have to do with it?

``The Christianity that I want to talk about is possessing a will to resemble Jesus by pondering on His inner character and outer behavior. In other words, having a head-on wrestling match with Him. My work is to change positions -- from putting Jesus on a pedestal and believing in Him insipidly, to pulling Him close and grabbing onto His `satpa,' as a wrestler would, while looking at Him full in the face.''

But it is not a serious book written in a sophisticated manner. That's not Cho's style. His ideas might make devout Christians raise their eyebrows in a dubious and skeptical manner, but, as he does with everything else, Cho writes in his own way without restrictions.

``My clumsy theory on Jesus might be very offensive to some people, but I can't help that. No matter what people say, I wrote this in the `Cho-Young- nam way.'''

Like other theology books, the book contains theological and philosophical interpretations on Jesus Christ, Bible stories and anecdotes, as well as the history of the Biblical times.

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